Last year, I offered up a preview of the 15 films that had the most buzz going into the unveiling of the Foreign Language Oscar shortlist. Somehow this year, with a record 76 entries (last year it was 71), I whittled down another 15 films that have a shot at the shortlist which is expected to be finalized later this week. This was not an easy task in one of the strongest fields for foreign film in recent years. While 2012′s eventual winner Amour seemed like a foregone conclusion, this year has any number of possible outcomes. Movies that started their careers in Berlin and Cannes are represented below, but so are others that didn’t make it to those high-profile events. I spoke with the directors of each film about their inspirations and expectations, and in some cases with the U.S. distributor about what gave them the confidence to acquire. Notably, Harvey Weinstein clarifies the controversy surrounding an edit of Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong entry The Grandmaster. There’s also a lot more here from folks like Paolo Sorrentino, Thomas Vinterberg and Sebastian Lelio, among many others. The rules for selecting the final winner have changed this year with the entire Academy voting body able to weigh in without proving they have seen the films in a movie theater. But the regs for establishing the shortlist remain the same: The Phase I committee determines six of the nine films on the shortlist. The other three titles will be determined by the select Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee. Those three extra titles might have international renown but been somehow overlooked by the larger committee (wink, wink City Of God, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days and others). After that, an uber-committee of 30 higher profile members chooses the ultimate five nominees after viewing the finalists over the course of a long weekend. Below (in alphabetical order by title) are profiles of the 15 films that I believe have a shot at the first stage:
Foreign Language Oscar Preview: A Long List Of Strong Contenders For Such A Shortlist Of Possible Nominees
Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
It was all about Fox Searchlight’s Enough Said in the Specialty Box Office. The feature directed by Nicole Holofcener starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini easily scored the weekend’s highest numbers, taking in $240K in 4 theaters for a $60K average. That is one of the highest PSAs of the year among limited-release titles and a career high for Holofcener. Her previous film, Please Give, opened in April 2010 in 5 theaters, averaging $23,625, while Friends With Money (April 2006) had a $21,047 PSA though that film bowed with 28 runs. It went on to cume over $13.3 million.
The average gives Enough Said bragging rights as one of the year’s best specialty openers, though the likes of Blue Jasmine ($102K average in 6 theaters), Spring Breakers ($87,667 in three theaters) and The Place Beyond The Pines ($69,864 in 4 theaters) remain at the top in terms of opening-weekend averages. Searchlight was naturally happy with the weekend results, noting the film has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and heaped praise on the filmmaker and cast. “Audiences have been waiting for a well-written film for adults, and besides Nicole’s core audience, she seems to be reaching a new set of moviegoers who are discovering and appreciating her work,” the distributor said. “We are very happy with the outstanding opening weekend grosses, and while we knew all along that we would do well at the box office, these figures are beyond our wildest expectations.” The company will expand Enough Said to 65 new markets on Friday, while widening in NY and LA. It will head to 180-220 locations.
Roadside/Lionsgate’s Thanks For Sharing had the weekend’s biggest release, opening in 269 theaters and capitalizing on the film’s cast of recognizable names including Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Pink and Tim Robbins. The offering proved less than addictive, however, with a $2,255 average and a weekend gross over $607K.
Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda, the first-ever feature shot entirely inside the Kingdom – and notably the first Saudi film made by a female director – has now become the Kingdom’s first entry ever submitted to the Oscars. Sultan AI Bazie, head of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, and chairman of the nominating committee, said, “We are very proud of the film as an authentic representation of our country and culture, and are very pleased to see the themes and story of the film resonate with audiences well beyond our borders.” Produced by Rotana Studios, the film debuted in Venice last year. Al Mansour explained that she was sometimes relegated to directing by telephone since Saudi law does not allow women and men to be seen together outside. Following Venice, the movie played the Telluride, Palm Springs, London, Tribeca and LA Film Festivals among others. It tells the story of a young girl who challenges deep-rooted Saudi traditions in a determined quest to buy a bicycle. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the pic last September.
Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda is the first-ever feature shot entirely inside the Kingdom – and notably the first Saudi film made by a female director. It debuted in Venice last year where Al Mansour said she was sometimes relegated to directing by telephone since Saudi law does not allow women and men to be seen together outside. Following Venice, the movie played the Telluride, Palm Springs, London, Tribeca and LA Film Festivals among others. It tells the story of a young girl who challenges deep-rooted Saudi traditions in a determined quest to buy a bicycle. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the pic last September from Berlin-based producer Razor Films and will release later this year. It debuts in the UK on July 19 via Soda Pictures.
NEW YORK (September 15, 2012) – Sony Pictures Classics announced today that they have acquired all North American rights to WADJDA from Berlin-based Razor Films. Written and Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, WADJDA is the first feature film shot entirely in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia–and the first ever by a Saudi female filmmaker. The film had its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival to standing ovations and rave reviews before making a similarly triumphant North American debut at the Telluride Film Festival where the film was first discovered by Sony Classics. WADJDA will be released in 2013.
Sony Pictures Classics has worked previously with Razor Films and producers Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner on the Academy Award® nominated film WALTZ WITH BASHIR.
10-year-old Wadjda challenges deep-rooted Saudi traditions in a determined quest to buy a bicycle. When everything goes against her plans, she sees one last chance in her school’s Koran recitation competition and the large cash prize for first place. WADJDA is the story of a girl determined to fight for her dreams.
Haifaa Al-Mansour is the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. Through WADJDA, as well as previous media in the Kingdom, Haifaa has gained recognition for penetrating the wall of silence surrounding the sequestered lives of Saudi women and providing a platform for their unheard voices.
“We are extremely happy to work with the Sony Pictures Classics team again since we adore how dedicated and passionately they will release the film. After finishing the film in the way
This morning, Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour shared details of what it’s like to be the first female director of a Saudi film which is also the first-ever feature shot entirely inside the Kingdom. Speaking of Venice Horizons entry Wadjda, she said she was sometimes relegated to directing by telephone. Saudi law does not allow women and men to be seen together outside so “It was a major obstacle to go out in the street and talk to my actors,” she said. The film, which will head to Telluride next, is about a young girl in a Riyadh suburb who goes to great lengths to raise money for the bicycle she desperately covets.
Produced by the German folks behind Waltz With Bashir, Wadjda will not have a chance to be seen theatrically inside Saudi. Movie theaters are illegal, so the film there will go out through DVD and pay-TV. Al Mansour said she also had a difficult time shooting since “people don’t want cameras in their neighborhoods.” To cast her young lead, she relied on scouts as a casting call was out of the question. “It’s unacceptable for women to be in front of the camera.” But the director struck a positive note when she added, “Saudi Arabia is opening up. I’m not saying it’s heaven, but we saw Saudi sending women to the Olympics. There is an opportunity …